Friends or foes? Cameron seeks to clear air over coalition rifts

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DAVID Cameron insisted the coalition Government would last until 2015 but admitted he and Nick Clegg were not friends who dined together following the controversial failure to push through House of Lords reform.

The Liberal Democrat leader was forced to abandon his planned reforms after the Prime Minister said he could not secure enough Conservative votes to get the legislation through Parliament.

A furious Mr Clegg later accused the Tories of breaking the coalition deal and vowed to block changes to constituency boundaries which would have given the Tories a greater chance of winning an overall majority at the next General Election.

Mr Cameron claimed yesterday, however, that the row would not derail the Government, saying: “We are different parties, we are not always going to agree, but I would argue that over the last two years we have put aside political differences and worked together in the national interest.”

The Prime Minister joked he and Mr Clegg should play volleyball to boost their partnership adding that he and the Deputy Prime Minister were not close enough to eat together. “It’s not friends as in we go out for happy meals together,” he said.

The issue has placed the strongest strain on the coalition since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took office just over two years ago.

A referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote (AV) system and the pledge to reform the House of Lords were both seen as major gains for the Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

Following the referendum defeat over AV last year, the decision not to pursue reforming the House of Lords comes as a major blow to the Lib Dems.

But Mr Cameron said: “We work well together, but the key thing is, are we taking the difficult decisions that meet the long-term challenge of this country?

“Making sure we can pay for our pensions, reforming our schools, getting the legacy of this Olympics right, taking tough decisions in a very difficult world?

“I would argue that we are. This coalition will go all the way, there is a lot more for us to do.

“You will see us this autumn coming out of the starting blocks – maybe not quite as fast as Usain Bolt – with a really packed programme of what we want to do for this country.”

The Prime Minister also claimed he wanted his potential rival Boris Johnson “to be as ambitious as possible”.

The London Mayor has been tipped to succeed Mr Cameron as Tory leader, despite admitting voters would be unlikely to elect “a prat” like him.

But speculation has continued to link Mr Johnson with a challenge to the Prime Minister, as the Mayor’s popularity has soared during his role in the London 2012 Olympics.

Mr Cameron said: “I want Boris to be as ambitious as possible. He is a fantastic London Mayor.”

The Prime Minister claimed he wanted to see city leaders elevated into national politics and denied he wanted to “put a cap on people’s ambitions”. “It’s good for my party’s point of view that we have got big figures that can do big things for our country, so I welcome the fact I have got in Boris Johnson a great Mayor of London, a great titan in my party and someone who I think has got a lot more to give the country.”

Mr Cameron’s comments came as Nick Clegg visited a charity shop in Sheffield to urge people to donate their time for good causes.

The Sheffield Hallam MPComment: Page 16.